We hear, see, and read the word ‘inclusive’ a lot these days and we must admit that we are also guilty of overusing the term. The term portrays an image of being open and accepting for everyone, what could possibly be wrong with that? Nothing at all is the answer but it seems to mean very little unless it is put into some context in relation to what is offered as ‘inclusive’.
As access consultants at Direct Access, we are primarily concerned with buildings and spaces that combine to form the built environment that we all use. So, what is inclusive when we apply the term to the built environment? What is an inclusive environment? The UK Design Council defines an inclusive environment as one accessible by everyone regardless of age, gender, ethnicity, or disability. Inclusive environments are:
· Welcoming to everyone.
· Responsive to people’s needs.
· Intuitive to use.
· Offer choice when a single design solution cannot meet all user needs.
· Convenient and can be used without undue effort or special separation and so that they maximise independence.
What does that all mean in practice? In the interests of brevity, it is important to focus on the last point. Inclusive design is about removing separation and maximising independence particularly in relation to the use of the built environment by disabled people. In practical terms, this could mean installing an automatic powered door, induction loop, or changing places facility, or designing a building to offer full level access rather than a ramp and steps. The aim is to have an attractive and inclusive environment that can be used by as many people as possible on an equal basis.
The business case for inclusive environments is very strong. There are huge commercial benefits to be had from adopting inclusive design principles and making the built environment more accessible. The spending power of disabled people and their families, known as the Purple Pound, is worth a staggering £274 billion which is estimated to rise by 14% every year with more than 1 in 5 potential customers in UK disabled people and an estimated £2 billion lost every month by businesses ignoring the needs of disabled people. Simply put, organisations cannot afford to ignore the need of disabled people.
Why is an access audit important? An access audit will help your organisation develop inclusive design whether you need an audit of a design for a new building or an audit of an existing building.
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